As utility bills have skyrocketed, Contact Denver7 has heard from people who thought they could save money on solar, only to discover that getting their solar panels connected by Xcel Energy is easier said than done.
Now, state lawmakers and regulators are responding.
"They need to step up and get this job done," said Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, who has a message for Xcel and a bill drafted to back it up. "I think this work is falling behind, and that hurts customers, and it's got to stop."
Xcel customers and solar companies have reported waiting four months or even longer, as Xcel grapples with a backlog in requests.
"So sometimes these customers can have two, three, four months where they're paying the loan company for their solar plus Xcel because Xcel hasn't given us permission, but the solar panels are on their house," said Devin Dickinson, owner of Altitude Solar Power.
State regulators with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) have known about this issue for years, investigating delays in a 2021 staff report, but no deadlines or penalties appear to have been implemented. However, a recent increase in complaints has commissioners meeting on the issue this Wednesday to consider action.
"I think the PUC should have solved this issue years ago," said Hansen, who pointed to other lawmakers, including Governor Jared Polis, who are calling for change.
"It should not take anyone six months to go through red tape to get solar on their home," Polis said in a news conference last week.
RELATED: Polis announces new measures to help reduce energy costs for Coloradans
Some other states, such as Minnesota, have deadlines for utilities to connect solar power, along with fines if those deadlines are missed.
Xcel was reportedly fined $1 million by the Minnesota PUC in 2021 for exceeding the maximum number of complaints filed for interconnection failures.
Hansen said Coloradans need the same protections.
"This is sort of the moment where, OK, if you're not getting the job done, now, we need to look at a statutory remedy," said Hansen.
The language of the bill is still being finalized, but Hansen says it would essentially give Xcel and other utilities 60 days to get solar panels connected, and outline penalties if they don't meet that deadline.
Hansen says there are serious conversations this legislative session about a Utility Bill of Rights to protect consumers, and this bill is just the start.
Meanwhile, Xcel blamed a 34% increase in solar customers in 2022 for delays.
In an updated statement, Xcel apologized for the delays, saying, "We’re working through the backlog of applications and as of last week are on track to clear the backlog up by early March. We’ve reallocated several internal resources to work as quickly as we can. Because of this work, we do not feel legislative action is needed. As you may know, we’re working with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, which has more detailed information and context on the issue."
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